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UPDATED: July 2, 2014 NO. 27 JULY 3, 2014
A Smart Policy
China and Japan should enhance economic cooperation in spite of political differences
By Zhou Yongsheng

Thus far, neither Beijing nor Tokyo has found a solution to their territorial disputes. At the same time, Abe's right-wing administration insists on misguided acts and statements, aggressive diplomatic propaganda and military preparation targeted at China. Consequently, China scarcely has a chance to come to terms with Japan in politics, security and military areas. Therefore, the political stalemate between the two East Asian neighbors will not only be inevitable, but also long-lasting. The two governments must handle bilateral economic relations and policies amidst a long-term political standoff.

Let's talk business

Close economic cooperation surely can deepen ties and communication in various areas, promote mutual exchanges and understandings, and provide economic and popular support for ameliorating future bilateral relations. But enhancing bilateral relations never is a corollary of increasing economic cooperation. Chinese and Japanese governments should make more efforts to develop bilateral economic relations, and treat it as a practical approach to gaining profits for their own.

Japanese leaders have no fantasy of promoting bilateral relations by intensifying economic links. On the contrary, they often express their fear of a close China-Japan economic relationship. But China usually magnifies the function of boosting economic relations. Currently, both countries' attitudes are inadequate. Japan's fear of deeper economic cooperation actually means giving up major practical economic interests from China. Its choice to seek interests in India and ASEAN nations is a policy that requires long-term input but leads to small output.

China's expectation of economic relations is impractical, and ignores the fact that a close economic relationship alone cannot be decisive due to the complicated and profound territorial and historical disputes between China and Japan. By approaching bilateral economic cooperation in a more practical fashion, Japan could cease seeking out misguided alternatives to the lucrative Chinese market, while China would be able to maximize potential economic benefits.

To protect their respective national interests, China and Japan should separate their economic bonds from bilateral political, security and military relations. In this way, while insisting on their opposing principles, stances and acts in the political field, the two neighbors will still be able to deepen their economic cooperation. Neither of them will feel as though they are stooping to compromise, but will rather believe they have defended their national interests through economic cooperation. Moreover, such a policy satisfies popular emotions and material demands. Therefore, it is the second best choice that can meet both immediate and long-term needs in spite of difficult political relations.

They also need to promote cooperation in big economic projects, particularly to advance the building of a China-Japan-South Korea free trade area. Meanwhile, leaders of the two sides should maintain contact in order to practically boost economic cooperation. During their meetings, leaders of the two countries can choose to focus on economic cooperation, without mentioning political, security and military topics, or expressing their political, security and military principles and stances. Such an interaction pattern will push forward bilateral economic cooperation, while achieving consistent economic goals.

Japan's diplomatic activity with China is usually courteous but lacking in sincerity, which is a flexible way of interacting. The government treats diplomatic exchanges with China as a publicity stunt, because it at least can win popular domestic support when no diplomatic achievement is made. China, which generally conducts diplomatic activity solemnly and holds high expectations, often feels disappointed when diplomacy fails to create positive outcomes. Now China is changing its attitude, and lowering political, security and military expectations when meeting with Japanese leaders. This more realistic approach may be helpful in easing up bilateral and regional tensions.

The author is a professor with the China Foreign Affairs University

Email us at: yanwei@bjreview.com

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